Christmas & New Year in Georgia: What Do Foreigners Think?


Christmas and New Year are the most anticipated celebrations of the year for Georgians, probably because it is yet another excuse to lay out an enormous feast (or ‘supra’)! The New Year Supra starts on December 31 and continues all the way up to January 14 (including Bedoba [Day of Luck] on January 2 and Christmas on January 7).

Celebrating New Year over two weeks and Christmas on this day are strange concepts for expats and tourists. It’s not just the dates that are different; the Georgian traditions are too. The Western cultures are compelled to buy a Christmas gift for everyone they know, whereas Georgian’s only give gifts to close family and friends.

GEORGIA TODAY interviewed a selection of travelers to find out how they celebrate, and what they think about the Georgian Christmas and New Year traditions.

Hazem Alhalabi, Syria

Coming from an oriental society, my family and I usually celebrate the New Year on December 31, for which the country puts up lights and decorations. In Syria, it’s different because people put their own decorations on their own balconies and windows. They tend to compete for the best decorated house because it somehow reflects the status of the family. In the streets, Christmas trees are everywhere, to share happiness and joy.

Households also have their own rituals; they buy gifts for the children, or something memorable for the house. As well as this, we prepare for the New Year dinner, or just provide a collection of sweets and cakes; inviting close family members to spend the night together. Sometimes, families meet at a restaurant or café where they can celebrate with live music and fireworks.

I adore the way Georgians celebrate it together; they enjoy the moment like they enjoy every moment when they gather at the Georgian table. I also love how the city gets brighter because of decorations and lights, and how people start getting wearing Christmas jumpers.

What I don’t like, and I think everyone will agree, is the reckless and the unorganized selling of fireworks and Christmas trees. People sell those trees on the sidewalks, making it difficult for pedestrians to pass, and fireworks are fired from almost every balcony and every house everywhere, at any time, from very morning till late at night, which is pretty disturbing.

Katie Davies, UK

I find it strange that people work on 'Christmas Day' here. The kids are still at school and the shops are open. If I'm not in back in the UK with my parents, I try to get the day off and keep the kids home, too- I do the whole Santa visit that morning and we open our presents. The Georgians are not big on gift-giving, which saves the financial stress that Westerners suffer, but I always go overboard for my kids anyway! As my husband is Georgian, we do the big New Year feast on the 31st, then go out with friends. Georgian Christmas (January 7) is a quieter affair- we're not religious, so my mother-in-law might take our eldest to church, and we do a roast dinner and invite family and friends round. Old New Year on the 14th is barely celebrated, but we use it as an excuse to meet up with friends and enjoy the last celebration before the long work-slog leading up to the next big holiday (Easter!).

Kenneth Monette, USA

The best thing is the Georgian tradition of 'first footer', the first person to enter their house on New Year’s Day, which brings the family good luck throughout the year (hopefully).

The ‘supras’ are great; full of good food and endless wine to drink and good times and conversation. Simple times among family and close friends is heartwarming and it’s good to see it still remains in the modern times of holiday commercialism.

I'm not a big fan of Satsivi, but I do enjoy the rest of the Georgian food. The Georgians always keep it simple and sweet to enjoy! They keep everything in perspective, and it is something I’m proud to be a part of: the simple way of life!

Daria Kholodilina, Ukraine

I’ve lived in Georgia for more than four years and I live alone, so I enjoy the freedom of choice: which events to attend and which friends to visit!

I celebrated New Year 2015 and 2017 in Batumi, which was a nice experience with all the lights reflecting in the sea, beautiful evergreen plants and local omelette borano for a very, very late breakfast of January 1. If I’m in Tbilisi, I prefer to spend it with my friends Maite and Vakho, who are like my second family.

This is what I like about the Georgian way: family spirit and big gathering I’m in love with chichilaki instead of a dead fir tree. Once, I also was a mekvle (the ‘first-footer in the house, bringing luck, love and sweets to the family).

Bedoba, the Day of Luck, was something new to me in the beginning. If you spend the January 2 in a good way, the year will be happy and successful, and I find it cool that Georgia gives a chance to celebrate Old New Bedoba after the Old New Year in case you totally failed to be happy, merry and sober on the 2nd of January.

The only thing I don’t like is too much is the fireworks which scare kids and stray animals, but most people find them beautiful.

Natalie Anne Taylor, USA

I celebrate Christmas on December 25 with my close family in America. On December 24, Christmas Eve, my family and I each choose one gift to open before midnight. We make sure to leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out for when Santa comes. Typically, we have a big Christmas feast on Christmas Eve that includes dishes like baked chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, persimmon bread, and many types of pies. On Christmas Day, we open our presents and make sure to write down who sent us what, so we can send them thank you cards in the mail. After opening presents, we usually visit family and have a lighter Christmas dinner that night. New Year’s is usually spent with close friends in the nearest big city (San Francisco), watching the fireworks go off at midnight, and drinking cheap prosecco.

I love most of the traditional Georgian dishes for Christmas and New Year’s. Satsivi is a favorite. I’ll never forget making churchkhela in Martkopi with my host family last year; the process is unique and the love for tradition is alive and well, especially in the village. Otherwise, one of the most memorable Georgian Christmas traditions is ‘Alilo’, with a church service in the morning and afterwards people walk around the village wearing traditional Georgian outfits and singing traditional Christmas songs. As one big group, we walked from door to door singing songs. Every house offered food and wine, and let’s just say the party went well into the evening! It was a very special day.

One thing I don’t is the pressure to drink wine and cha-cha at every feast. I feel that pressure especially as a foreigner.

From the GEORGIA TODAY team, we wish all our readers and friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Tom Day

27 December 2017 18:14